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Let Your Freak Flag Fly

It’s often the case that finding yourself as an artist is difficult with all the noise out there and, of course, the obligation of needing to make a living with the work you’re creating. It is a difficult thing to look within, find that inner voice, listen to it and then put yourself out on display for the world to see. But, as artists, that is what we do. In fact, I think it’s essential to the creative process.

When I first started with my good friend, Amanda Sosa Stone, she encouraged me to let go of the photography that wasn’t ‘me’ and let my “freak flag fly”. It was some of the most valuable advice I had ever received. This was the moment I was reminded that I’m not doing myself any service by forgetting who I am as an artist.

The answer was there all along in a series I created during my senior year of college that had originally launched my career…The Folk of the Blue Ridge. This body of work won several awards, including a professional fellowship grant from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. I was afraid to tell anyone at the time that this apparently “documentary photograph” was actually a stitched panorama. I had pulled the most intriguing expressions and gestures together from the shoot to make this one perfect moment that, to my experience, told the story most accurately. I was rejecting the traditional thoughts about purity in photography, embracing technology and finding my own path. My belief was that it’s all about utilizing every resource you have available to create the most intriguing image. Turns out that by capturing each person separately, I was telling the story most accurately.

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But somewhere along the way, I had strayed from the work that I felt compelled to create and I fell into a routine of showing work that I thought would get me work in my geographical location. It seemed that I had forgotten the bigger picture – my SELF. “Who am I now?” is the question I had to answer. I was no longer exactly the same person I was in college. Looking back at this work and examining exactly what made it special to me was a starting point in the right direction.

The evolution of this industry over the last 10 years has been exciting to watch and it has opened doors that have allowed me to spread my wings and fly. As my knowledge of Photoshop and CGI has grown exponentially, it has opened doors to so many possibilities. The consistent elements were my love for epic landscapes, creating complex narratives and beautiful portraiture. It was now possible to dream up and create epic, narrative scenarios and combine them with portraiture and a well planned storyline; many of my technical limitations have fallen away. With the encouragement and inspiration of those around me, I started to build a new body of work. Things started to fall into place. By creating work that I was passionate about, I was finding my way as a commercial artist and able to reach outside my local market.

Throughout the course of my career, I have continued to stay in touch with the trends, I’ve embraced new technology and I’ve always tried new things to figure out what feels right for me. When I started taking all of my knowledge and resources, stepping outside of the box of what’s normal and building my own path through the creation of independently produced projects, finding my way as a commercial artist began to fall into place. The industry growth has been exciting to watch, but I think it really hit home when I started using my knowledge of Photoshop and combined my love for creating epic landscapes with portraiture and began to dream up epic narrative scenarios without technical limitation, that my brand of images started to evolve.

“Who am I?”, is a question all photographers ask themselves at some point. It’s a difficult to let your freak flag fly and trust in your own unique artistic vision. However, there is no creativity without risk or without exposing yourself in one way or another.

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There are many ways, as evolving artists, to allow ourselves to become susceptible to failure. Without taking risks, allowing one’s self to be vulnerable or embracing failure, an artist can rarely evolve past a certain point in the evolution of their career. The fear of failure we all feel runs contrary to professional growth and often it’s the things we fear the most that we should be tackling head on in order to break through to new ground.

Facing my fear, embracing my failures and learning from my mistakes have all been consistent themes throughout the evolution of my career. Often, it’s the case that perceived failures turn into a breakthrough by opening your mind to new possibilities. You always have a choice in how you view every situation and looking for the lesson that’s to be learned in every success or failure is a crucial part of the journey.

The career of an artist is an amazing journey filled with inspiring peaks and low, dark valleys. It takes dedication, persistence and a wonderful sense of adventure to navigate yourself through the process. It takes love, friendship and strength to push on and find your way in the face of failure and disappointment. But, most of all, it takes being honest with yourself to find your way across the vast and rocky terrain we call photography. Shake things up from time to time. Be willing to try and fail. Without taking risks, we rarely evolve in the evolution of our career.

To view more of Chris’ work, head on over to his site.

Christopher Winton-Stahle

Chris Winton-Stahle is an award-winning photographer and accomplished photo illustration artist who sees the camera as only half of his process in creating great imagery. Chris often pulls components from multiple images and CGI when creating his work for clients in advertising, magazines and entertainment.

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